Kenneth Noble
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12 July, 2017

Kenneth Noble, Secretary of IofC-UK, asks where hope can be found at a time when so many things are going badly wrong.

To quote Charles Dickens, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Less often remembered, the quote continues: ‘It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.’

Do we who inhabit the Earth today live in an age of wisdom or of foolishness? The answer may not be entirely clear-cut.

On the side of ‘foolishness’, during my lifetime, which now measures several decades, I cannot recall a time when there was such an atmosphere of instability: an ever-present terrorist threat; ‘the great and the good’ perceived as lacking judgement or empathy; those who rely on public services and those who provide them both feeling angry and betrayed by those in authority; a political leadership without direction; a flood of hapless humanity fleeing terrors in the Middle East, Libya, Eritrea and beyond; wars and rumours of war.

Set during the build-up to the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, had as its context the extremist ideology of its day. Anti-church and anti-establishment idealism soon gave way to extremism and then to the terror of Madame Guillotine. Today’s hate-fuelled ideologies, equipped with even more potent weaponry, beguile many who could otherwise be finding more constructive ways of challenging the undoubted failures of our materialistic society.

The arguments for this being an age of foolishness seem overwhelming…  And, yet, wisdom is not dead. Hard though it can be to detect, wisdom is there to be found for those who seek it.

St Paul reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood (in other words, each other) but against the spiritual forces of evil. We cannot make progress if we don’t recognise that that fight to overcome wrong starts within each one of us as an individual. The Holy Spirit was promised to us in order to ‘lead us into all truth’. In my experience, he very often begins by pointing the searchlight inwards. As someone once observed, there is no such thing as original sin – it has all been tried before. Each one of us – and not just the extremists – allows hate into their hearts at least some of the time. The Psalm reminds us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The daily struggle to turn to Christ and not to temptation and to search for his will, is the step-by-step approach to gaining spiritual insight and, perhaps, ultimately wisdom.

Equally essential is the struggle to forgive. You are as close to God as the person from whom you are most divided, as a Canadian doctor once observed. I was struck recently to read the words of a Rwandan refugee who had lost his parents, three brothers and a sister in that country’s genocide: ‘We become what we don’t forgive.’ He had decided to forgive the ‘friend’ who had killed his father.

Another telling example from Africa is portrayed in the 2016 UNDP film: A Film for Northern Uganda, which documents the recovery of the area after the devastating insurrection by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Louis Lakor was forcibly abducted by the LRA. After being tortured he obeyed an order to shoot a friend. When Louis returned home after the hostilities, he went to the parents of his friend, explained what had happened and asked for their forgiveness. Remarkably, they gave it. Louis went on to learn welding and now has his own workshop. He spends much of his time passing on his skills to other young people so that they can earn a living.

I may not have suffered as much as so many have, and the things that I need to forgive may seem trivial by comparison. But Christians are also challenged to seek the forgiveness of those whom we have wronged. That may be the best, indeed the only, basis on which to build 21st century cities where everyone can feel equally at home.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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